Standardized testing is an incredibly important issue that directly affects our nation’s youth and educators. The issue first arose in the late 1830s when early American educators began discussing the creation of a written test to assess students’ capabilities. Ever since then, the issue keeps coming up again and again.
In 2001, the federal government issued an unfunded mandate called No Child Left Behind, in which it required states to administer standardized tests yearly according to the states’ standards for education. The states must find a means to administer these tests or the federal government would no longer provide any educational funds for the states. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was met with widespread criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. One of the main issues educators had with the mandate was the amount of testing that students had to go through during their K-12 education. According to the Washington Post in 2015, based off of a study performed by the Council of the Great City Schools, the average student takes about 112 standardized tests from preschool to high school graduation. This data was collected in 2015, approximately the same year much of the NCLB was replaced with a new bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Most other nations that are ahead of the United States when it comes to education and retention only test students three times in their entire elementary to secondary school careers. Therefore, it most definitely seems like testing students more heavily does not directly result in a better education system and retention rates. However, measuring performance is still very important, and standardized test results can be extremely telling of both a student’s and an educator’s abilities. For example, if a parent receives a child’s standardized test score and the child is the 96th percentile in reading but only 32nd percentile in math, the parent knows what to focus on at home. Educators can also look over all their students’ scores as a whole to see which categories their students performed best and worst in. This then allows the educator to modify their teaching methods in certain areas in the best interest of their future students.
Standardized testing also poses challenges, however. After NCLB was passed, many educators found themselves teaching for the sole purpose of having their students perform well on standardized tests rather than providing their students a comprehensive and purposeful education in the classroom. Also, there are many fundamental skills that should be taught in schools that a standardized test cannot necessarily measure, including communication skills and the ability to contemplate more open-ended questions and problems. People also argue that standardized testing discourages individuality and stifles open-minded critical thinking and creativity. When it is drilled into the minds of today’s students that a multiple-choice test determines their intelligence, they are less likely to think beyond the test. Standardized testing could possibly dissuade an entire generation from thinking outside of the box; in reality, however, we desperately need more innovative minds in all professional and academic fields. Though multiple-choice standardized tests cannot be completely discredited when it comes to measuring a child’s knowledge and education, it does not tell the entire story. And it most definitely does not determine a child’s intelligence or talent.
No matter what you think of standardized testing, however, it doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon. With the Common Core State Standards Initiative, students in this country continue to be tested at an alarming rate. This time, the tests are still based on state standards for education but with more federal influence. Common Core is a plan developed at the national level to increase educational expectations for U.S. students. Basically, it defines what students should have learned at the end of each grade level. These requirements are not mandated to the states, and state participation is voluntary. Therefore, Common Core is basically a list of suggestions created at the national level when it comes to what students should know at certain points in their educations. Common Core also does not propose a curriculum for states and local communities to follow. It simply establishes what student outcomes should be. As harmless as this sounds, this initiative still requires our students to go through much rigorous testing. In addition, Common Core testing is what many professional educators and researchers call “high stakes testing,” a form of testing in which the results of the students directly reflect on the students, teachers, and school districts. Students are not able to advance to a higher grade level if they don’t score high enough on the Common Core, no matter how great their other academic achievements may be. Because the Common Core also imposes such difficult standards on young children, it may also foster a distasteful attitude toward school in the younger generation. If our children don’t have faith in the education system and in themselves, how are they supposed to succeed in the education system? And how are they supposed to succeed in the real world if they harbor resentment toward education?
Overall, standardized testing is not a completely ineffective way of measuring aptitude and learning in children. However, too much testing can take away time from learning as well as foster a hatred for education within young minds. In addition, standardized testing can never accurately measure certain skills that students learned in school. It can also never measure a child’s creativity or ability to critically think in a more open-ended scenario. Yes, standardized tests are important and should be taken a few times during a child’s schooling process. But they’re not too important. So let’s stop acting like they define our children’s intelligence and possibility for success. Because ultimately, only our children can define that. Let our educators and administrators shape our children into well-rounded human beings rather than just teaching to a test. Life is more than a test. It’s the ultimate test. And most of the time, it doesn’t involve answering multiple-choice questions on a standardized test. There are so many ways to succeed. So don’t let some standardized test results define you.
*Disclaimer: I do recognize the importance of standardized tests as stated numerous times throughout the piece. I just don’t believe that standardized tests should completely define a student, parent, or educator. There is more than one way to be intelligent. Not doing well on a standardized test does NOT mean that a child is unintelligent.